Glossary of Japanese Boats and Terms

This is a list of terms relating to traditional Japanese boats, or wasen, that I’ve collected in my notes. This is not even close to being a comprehensive list, and the descriptions given are really quite basic. I’ve compiled this list from my own studies, and with the help of many others who are more knowledgeable than myself.

Yubune 湯船 - a bath boat from the Edo period.

Yubune 湯船 – a bath boat from the Edo period.

Sources of information include the book Funakagami, books I’ve collected by Professor Kenji Ishii, the works of Douglas Brooks, information parsed from the Internet, and information I’ve gathered personally through visits to the Toba Seafolk Museum, the Urayasu Museum, the Edo Tokyo Museum, and the Ogi Folk Museum.

At some point, I hope to write more complete and detailed descriptions for each of the terms. Probably, this will happen one term at a time, as I learn about each one and study them in more depth. However, the list of boat types seems endless, and I have only a small number listed here. I have many more that are not in this list, so I will expand it over time.

I’ve grouped these terms in a way that seems most meaningful to me. I’ve sorted alphabetically where possible, but, more importantly, in order or relevance. Note that this page is under construction and will be revised as time permits.

For the boat types and general terms, I’ve tried to include the terms written in kanji (chinese characters adopted for the Japanese language). However, in many cases, I’ve only found the names written in katakana (one of two phonetic alphabets used in Japanese). Boatbuilding terms, in particular, seem most commonly written using katakana.

I include the Japanese text in order to make it easier to search the web for images and information. Simply copy the characters and past them into your web searches and you’ll find a lot more than simply using the romanized words.


General Terms

Wasen 和船- meaning “traditional Japanese boat”. A general term for any wooden boat of Japanese style.

Bezaisen 弁才船- a class of large coastal transport, of which there are several types.

Junkōzōsen 準構造線 – term for a boat with a semi-structured hull.

Kawabune 川船 – a generic term for riverboat.

Kuribune 刳船  – term for a boat with a dugout hull.

Sengokubune 千石船- meaning “1000 koku ship”. A common term for bezaisen.


Boat Types

Aganogawa Kawabune 阿賀野川川船- a long, narrow riverboat of the Agano river used in cast net fishing.

Bekabune ベカブネ – a one or two-person boat used in Tokyo Bay for shell fishing or gathering seaweed. The term might be used in other regions, as are the terms Beka, Kawabeka, and Noribeka. Because they are small, bekabune are sometimes transported aboard Utasebune.

Chabune 茶船 – a general term for a small boat used for transport on rivers during the Edo period; the name refers to a small riverboat used for selling food and drink (Funakagami).

Chokibune 猪牙舟 – a small boat used as a river taxi during the Edo period.

Choro 丁櫓 – This is a term used for a small, sculled boat. The usage of the term varies depending on region.

Godairikisen 五大力船 – a large, local transport capable of operating on rivers or on the ocean.

Gozabune 御座船 – large boats used by aristocrats or high-ranking warriors. Often decorated for fesitvals. Built for use both on rivers and on ocean. Seagoing Gozabune were essentially warships used to demonstrate a warriors prowess during peaceful times. River boats used for the purpose were called Kawagozabune.

Hacchoro  八丁櫓 – an 8-oar boat used for pole-and-line fishing of bonito. At one time, boats of this type from Yaizu were commissioned as escort boats for the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Higaki Kaisen 菱垣回線 – A bezaisen of the Higaki trade guild, operated between Osaka and Edo (e.g. Naniwamaru).

Hiratabune 艜船 – A large riverboat from 50 to 80 feet long, similar to takasebune. Long and narrow, flat bottom boat, used to transport freight. The largest had a capacity of 300 koku (Deal). Large hiratabune and takasebune can be easily confused due to their similar appearances, but hiratabune generally have a cutwater or stem.

Hobikisen 圃引き船 – a side-trawling fishing boat used on Lake Kasumigaura.

Isanabune 鯨船 – An old term for a fast, multi-oared boat used for whaling. A more common term today is kujirabune.

Kasaibune 葛西舟 – fertilizer carrying boat.

Katsuobune カツオ船 – a boat used for bonito fishing. 8-oared variant is sometimes also referred to as a Hacchoro 八丁櫓.

Kitamaebune 北前船- a northern port bezaisen (e.g. Michinokumaru, Hakusanmaru)

Kurawankabune or  kurawanka くらわんか船 – a local, informal name (and not a very nice one) for a chabune used on the Yodo river to sell food and drink to passenger boats.

Kujirabune 鯨舟 – a colorfully painted whale boat used in whale spear fishing from Shiroura, Mie prefecture. Same type of boat was used for pole-and-line fishing of bonito, and was called a Hacchoro 八丁櫓. (13.7m, 2.3m)

Marukibune  丸木舟 – a type of boat with a dugout hull. See the general type, Kuribune.

Mizubune 水船 – a water carrying boat (from Funakagami)

Sanjukokubune 三十石船 – a 30-koku transport that was used on the Yodo river system for transporting passengers and goods.

Satsumagata サツマガタ – Literally, a Satsuma-style boat used for mackerel and marlin fishing on the west coast of Satsuma.

Sedoribune 瀨取り船 – a small boat for loading and unloading cargo from larger ships.

Sekobune – a chaser-type boat used in whaling. See kujirabune.

Tabune タブネ – a ricefield boat.

Takasebune 高瀬船 – long and narrow riverboat with a flat bottom, used to transport freight, typically. Large takasebune and hiratabune can be very similar in appearance, but takasebune generally have a flat bow with no cutwater.

Taraibune たらい舟 – a one-person tub boat from the Niigata coast, most commonly from Sado island, used for inshore and shell fishing.

Taru Kaisen – a barrel carrying bezaisen, usually carrying sake or miso.

Tenmasen 伝馬船 – common term for a sculled workboat or lighter.

Tosen 渡船 – a river ferry (from Funakagami)

Ukaibune 鵜飼船 – a cormorant fishing boat.

Uma Tosen 馬渡船 or Saku Tosen  昨渡船 – double ended ferry for carrying horses and cattle.

Utasebune 打瀬舟 – a small side-trawling fishing boat with triangular sails. Also a large, sailing workboat used in Tokyo Bay.

Uwanibune 上に船 – small boat for unloading cargo from a large anchored boat; lighter.

Yakatabune 屋形船 – a large river-going pleasure boat with a deck house that could accommodate a large number of people for an afternoon or evening of entertainment.

Yanebune 屋根船 – a roof boat, like yakatabune, but smaller.

Yubune 湯船 – a bath boat (from Funakagami). A floating public bath typically used by cargo ship crews and dock workers (Deal).

Zaimokubune 材木船 or Mokaribune – “Lumber Boat”. A raft-like boat used on Tsushima Island for harvesting seaweed.

Zutta Tenma – “crawling” workboat, Himi name for a tabune.


Boatbuilding Terms

These terms are very regional, so they may differ depending on the boatbuilder and the locale. In some cases, I’ve listed more than one term together, but there may be others as well. I also listed the terms in katakana, as I often see them written this way in books and on drawings. However, you should be aware that there are probably kanji for these terms as well.

shiki シキ, kawara カワラ – bottom

kajiki カジキ – garboard planks

miyoshi ミオシ – stem

koberi コベリ- rubrail

uwakoberi ウワコベル – caprail

futabari フタバリ – beam

matsura マツラ – frame

shikiriita シキリイタ – floor timber

tana タナ – planks

uwadana ウワダナ- shear plank

nedana ネダナ –

todate トダテ – transom

toko トコ or ootoko オオトコ – stern beam (a heavy beam)

ro ロ – sculling oar

kai カイ – paddle

te-kaki テカキ – hand paddle

kaji 舵 – rudder

sekidai セキダイ or namigaeshi (波返し) ナミガエシ – boards fixed at the rubrail which run the length of the boat, used to improve stability in rough seas.

omoki-zukuri – carved log construction (see Kuribune)

ita-awase – fitted plank construction

suri-awase – sawn plank fitting

tsubanomi – a sword-hilt chisel

sagari 下がり- a tassle decoration found on the bow of some larger boats

nobori – a pole-mounted banner or flag, usually tall and rectangular

hobashira – mast

hogeta 帆桁 – yardarm

yakata 屋形 – Deck house or cabin


War Boats

Atakebune  安宅船  – A large, lumbering, castle-like war vessel used during the Warring States period. Mounted with a large protected structure housing two or more decks, this was the largest type of Japanese warship. During the Tokugawa era, these ships were banned.

Sekibune   関船  – Used in the Warring States period, smaller and faster war vessel than the Atakebune. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as Hayabune, or fast boat. It has a protected structure on the main deck, usually with some protection for those on the open top deck. During the Tokugawa era, the use of these ships was severely curtailed, though many daimyo used them as Gozabune – highly decorative personal yachts.

Hayabune 早船     – Fast war boat. Because Sekibune are much faster than Atakebune, they are sometimes referred to as Hayabune.

Kohaya 小早 - Small, fast war boat.